Living the Dream

Living the Dream

In the previous article: Change Your Life, Change Your Thinking, I explained the profound effect that Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Working Week book has had on my life and others to whom I have recommended it. Here is the story of some friends of mine who took the book to heart (after a LOT of initial scepticism) and threw themselves into and are now members of the “New Rich.”

They made a plan; ring any bells? They implemented it and now two years later are financially better off, much happier with their less stressful lives and time rich. Here Louisa explains hers and her boyfriend, my friend, Gostas story:

Living The Dream

July 2012

‘Stuff society’ said my Swedish boyfriend, Gosta, as he marched outside to put the flags up on the flagpole in our garden. His father had said that by law, only one nation flag was allowed on a flagpole at any one time.

But although he was also on occasion the dutiful son of a judge, Gosta was also an ex-punk rocker, a tattooed rebel and determined that for our housewarming party at least, we would have them both up… Gosta would have you believe he’s a rebel

‘Why don’t you put the British flag on top then?’ I said.

‘Because it implies occupation.’ He replied. ‘I want to ignore convention…but not too much.’

Above is the view from our living room. We live on an island in the Gothenburg Archipelago with our two children. And this is the story of our dream come true.

Our island has no cars and no crime, which is lucky because at 2 years old, our daughter Freya’s most fun game is running away from me, giggling as she waits to get caught. Felix is just 4 months and has started laughing already… it’s the most beautiful sound in the world. On mornings like this, we go out rowing. Whilst I dangle my hand over the side of the boat marvelling at the pure smoothness of the water the most angelic little hooligan you ever saw sings raucously next to me. ‘Row, row, row, your boat….’

Four days a week Gosta goes to work in what we’ve christened ‘The Studio’. Although it’s a part of our house, it has its own entrance and that means some of the mortgage can be expensed on his limited company. The company is used to funnel earnings from three sources; his contract work, his song writing and his foreign exchange trading. All of them are performed online and that means no commute and a very flexible part-time nine to five. Even though the island has no cars, it does have perfect 4G internet coverage so we are not quite cut off from reality…or Facebook.

And every day as we take lunch gazing out together at the family of swans drifting on the quiet sea, we both remind each other how wonderful life is. But whilst I will never be ungrateful for what we have,

I can also proudly say we imagined and created our dream life. We built our own reality. And you can too.

July 2010

You are never given a wish without being given the power to make it true- Richard Bach

Events in life are serendipitous. And it’s no coincidence that I was given ‘The 4 Hour Work week’ during one of the most stressful periods in my life. Freya, my beautiful daughter, was barely 6 weeks old when I was forced back to work to take a contract which gave me the liberty to work online from home. On paper the deal was great; the company paid for a full time nanny on top of my contract rate, and she sat downstairs with my baby cuddling her and amusing her until I came out of my office at regular intervals to breastfeed. The best of both worlds, you might say.

But the wrench every time I handed her back and the agony I felt on hearing her cry downstairs for what felt like hours, meant that often I worked away blinded by tears eventually having to turn up the music on my headphones to be able to accomplish whatever task I had at hand. My baby wanted her mother, and I wanted to be with her. As the weeks progressed, I gave up breastfeeding because we decided it was better for both of us that my daughter was out of the house. My nanny took her out of my hearing and out of my broken heart.

‘You can keep it, I have two copies.’ Said my friend, handing over a copy of ‘The 4 hour work week’ by a guy called Tim Ferriss. Marc had coincidentally also recommended the book to Gosta. ‘You’re recommending this?’ I said half derisively. It promised 4 hours of work a week and 40,000 dollars per month…and quite frankly stank of ‘too-good-to-be-true’. But something so explicitly tantalising, that promised the dream I needed, and which was given to me by a friend, deserved a closer look.

Once a contractor, my boyfriend had taken a permanent job as a database programmer the year before. He was our only ‘secure’ income and as such was forced to commit to his daily grind in Hammersmith, London. Every morning he’d jump on his bike and pedal off, dodging ferocious traffic and breathing in the toxic fumes of the city.

gosta huldenHis passion was music and he was a song writer more successful than many – double platinum discs for several artists and signed to the music publisher BMG.

But working full time on top of a new born baby, not to mention his new hobby of forex trading, didn’t leave time for it.

‘The 4 hour work week. If I had that I could dedicate more time to forex and music. I used to be a songwriter who did IT on the side.’ He said morosely. ‘Now I’m lucky if I write one song a month.’

It was then that I started reading the 4 hour work week and tried without luck to persuade Gosta to do the same. There wasn’t enough time for reading in his life. Fortunately the entire book was also recorded on CD. And he listened to the whole thing on his way to and from work – narrowly missing several severe car crashes – until one night we started to talk seriously about our future.

Living The Dream :

Our Dream Life

The 4 hour work week was filled with extravagant promises and hyperbole – ‘Warning: Do not read this book unless you want a new way of living!’ it said on the back of the book… ‘Step by step guide to living the life of your dreams’… but the more I read through it, the more it changed – and challenged – my mindset. Quite simply, the first goal is geographical freedom and the second automation of income. And with all the time and money you save, you are free to travel the world and for example, compete – as Tim did – in the world Tango championships in Buenos Aires.

But whilst dancing the tango with a blind Al Pacino might have once been a fantasy of mine, our dream life now consisted of more time for our family and our passions. Like all good self-help books, the 4-hour work week gave us the impetus to imagine more, to strive for more and simply to expect more out of our lives.
As Gosta and I sat down to design our ideal life, this is what we came up with.

1. Goal: keep our current income, but move somewhere with a lower cost of living
2. We would ideally like to be close to the sea and nature
3. We want to have a home big enough to welcome our friends from around the world.
4. We want to work less on the boring stuff, more on the dream stuff – and if possible, work less.

It had been often a subject of discussion that whilst London was great for job opportunities, the good salaries were simply cancelled out by the cost of living. Buying a lovely house in Richmond, where we lived, would have cost close to a million or more and even the tiny terraced house we rented was worth 600 thousand.

‘Ok. So where would you want to live ideally?’ I said. ‘Somewhere hot.’ Said Gosta promptly.
‘France.’ I said. ‘I would consider the south of France.’ He said. ‘Next to the sea.’
‘I don’t know anyone in the south of France. And that’s even more expensive than London. My friends are in Paris.’ I said
‘I can’t see myself in Paris.’ He said. ‘I don’t speak French.’
‘But they speak French in the south of France too.’
‘Yeah, but it’s hot down there. I really want to live somewhere warm.’

Obviously we now live in Sweden. The least hot place in the world. But he speaks the language. Sorting out your real priorities from your fantasies is an important exercise to go through. And once we’d done that, we carefully constructed a plan about how to get it. I take no credit for the implementation – that was my boyfriend all the way. I am proud to admit he did a wonderful job.

Phase 1

Our first goal was to spend 3 months the following summer in Sweden (the only time when it was vaguely hot) – but as Gosta only had 4 weeks paid vacation a year, it seemed an impossibility. ‘They have to trust that you can work without supervision. Surely that’s the first key.’ I said.

‘Even when I’m at the office I talk to most of the guys on skype.’ He said. That’s what’s great about the IT world, I thought, 10 people sitting in the same room chatting to each other silently over messenger. ‘So it should be easy to persuade them to give you one day at home. You have a new baby; will they give you any leeway?’

‘Not to look after her, but maybe to cancel out the travel time.’ He took the issue to his managers, who are schooled to think nowadays that family balance is an important issue. It was decided that this day would be a trial only which gave them the assurance they needed to change their mind if it didn’t work out.
As he could work via VPN, actually doing the work wasn’t a problem. However there was a daily morning meeting which he proposed was moved to skype. This move proved very popular with some other team members as they could also benefit (mostly to sit at their desks playing solitaire).

He made a conscientious effort to be ever present on skype and set the volume on his computer to high so he never missed a call even when he went to grab a sandwich for lunch. He worked late on those days and took every opportunity to send constructive emails with a time stamp on them. He was as accommodating as possible which instilled them with trust in his ability to work independently and was even there when they didn’t expect support. The trial day was eventually made permanent after a few months and because it was such a success, we moved onto phase 2….

Phase 2

Asking for time off to program forex robots, or write pop songs may not be looked upon kindly by your employer. Fortunately asking for permission to work remotely so that your daughter gets to know her grandparents and her Swedish heritage is. Finding the reason that drives a decision into HR is crucial…the more HR gets involved with the longer term decision making the more ‘locked in’ the decision becomes. Managers can’t simply turn around and change their mind anymore, and working remotely becomes a contractual permission, not just a laissez faire management style. On the other hand, once HR says ‘no’ your ability to change the situation is more difficult, which is why it was also important to make the reason something that did not indicate dissatisfaction with work.

And in this, one of the trickiest aspects of the negotiation was persuading his management that whilst he didn’t want to leave, he did want to reduce his time at work. Reducing your time whilst making a move to work remotely, would send up warning signals with many. But in our case at least there was no financial risk to the employer – 80% working time also meant 80% of salary, although we timed it so that this reduction took place just after a salary raise and any corresponding impact to our household budget was lessened. Nevertheless, our finances were stretched tight since my income was sporadic and the need to move out of Richmond to somewhere less costly, was on our minds at all times.

A big discussion these past months had also been a calculation of how much we spent every month, what we regarded as necessary (need to have) and what we desired (nice to have). Because we chose to rent a house over the summer, the double rent on our home and on our holiday was expensive. But the move was so important to us that in the short term we economised on luxury. Truth to be told, 3 months by the sea required little expenditure. Food, sunblock and a pay-as-you-go internet connection. It was fortunate that we had a Swedish address (his sister’s) with which to order the internet connection…think in advance who your contacts are and who might be able to do you this favour. Because roaming charges are high.

‘Three months is a bit too long to go without some things and too short to bring other things.’ Said my boyfriend. ‘How can I bring and set up a music studio in under 20 kilos luggage allowance?’ As it turned out, it was cheaper to buy speakers and have them delivered to our holiday home than it would have been to pay excess baggage….another set of calculations we made.

By this point then, he had already achieved a working week which was divided into 3 days working in the office, one day working at home and one day working with music. We needed to get the other three days working remotely. In fact the only way you might be able to get those days is by proposing a foreign trip. Very few companies will accept that you work from home if you live so close to the office (35 minutes door to door).

We went over several drafts of the email that he sent to his managers. It contained several important points.

• That making sure his daughter got to know her culture was very important to him
• That to make this happen I was taking her to Sweden for the summer with or without him
• That the prospect of us gone for the entire summer was very hard for him
• That he would be willing to mix holidays and unpaid time into the 3 months in order to accompany me
• That his working online was very successful and he actually got more work done at home than at work
• That he loved his job, but this was a head and heart decision …and that really, they didn’t have a choice. He had to be with his family.

Gosta concluded the email from the heart –

‘You mustn’t think that this move one step for me to be able to leave this job. On the contrary, if I can take these three months you have given something so incredibly important to my family, something that means so much to me, that my loyalty will only increase.’ Needless to say, after two meetings, they agreed.

In hindsight, I think that last tactic was a stroke of genius. He had appealed to their emotions to be with his family. Whilst economists may hypothesize that decisions are rational, any marketer will tell you that all decisions have a large dollop of emotion thrown in. He had appealed to them about a universally recognised need and psychologically given them the power to be the bigger man.

Phase 3

We rented a house on the small island of Brännö over July, August and September. As it was a long term holiday rental we haggled quite a bit over the price and whilst we didn’t get it down much, we did get September chucked in for free as it wasn’t peak season (note to English people. Get a non English person to do the haggling. They’re far more shameless than we are).

It was just as we arrived that I started throwing up. Sure enough I was pregnant. And we were delighted …sort of. The pregnancy was planned in the way that, since I wasn’t getting any younger we had thought it better to start trying a year after my daughter was born. But our luck at getting pregnant precipitated a move out of Richmond. Our tiny terraced house wasn’t big enough for the three of us, let alone a fourth. We considered many options, but Sweden and more specifically Brännö, held numerous advantages:

• Brännö was next to the sea…
• And slap bang in the middle of nature (in fact it was the nature)
• We could get a house which was twice the size for half the cost
• Childcare is [practically] free
• Parental leave is paid for 13 months
• We had family close by

And although I am ashamed to admit it, our living expenses would be reduced substantially due to the consumerism to which I found myself vulnerable in more civilized society. There was no Harrods in Brännö, in fact there was just one grocery store (I have since found that Amazon has profited quite nicely from this though). For all the resources at our disposal it made sense. Childcare alone would increase our wealth by 40K a year.

Addressing a permanent move here with my boyfriend’s company was a big ‘ask’. For many reasons, we decided to wait until the last three weeks of the stay so that it was already proven he could do all the work remotely. The plain truth of the matter was that we couldn’t afford to stay in London and for our family’s sake we had to move out. My pregnancy wasn’t designed to be used as a manipulative tactic but nevertheless, we regarded it as a very useful negotiation tool – yet another resource at our disposal.

If we had to move out of London anyway, they would either have the expense of losing and having to find another person, or accepting that they got the service from someone who worked out of the office. And for whom they didn’t have to pay the overhead.

After several email exchanges, the negotiation boiled down to two sticking points.

a) That they didn’t want to have an employee based in Sweden and be subject to Swedish HR law
b) That he needed a little face to face contact to ensure his continued relationship with his colleagues

Promptly we offered to transform his employee contract into a rolling 6 month contract with a trial period and agreed that he would come over – at his own expense – every two months. Luckily for him the next opportunity to go over coincided with the Christmas party…And they got a contractor for exactly the same price as an employee with no risk on their side.

One month later, supported by his salary, we moved. In our new home, we feel rich (in money terms) and – of course – hugely wealthy if happiness is the currency.

We’re not all the way there and certainly have some way to go on reducing working hours. But our next goal is to spend the winter months in a rather warmer climate. Cyprus is an option since my father lives there. We’re lucky that we have an international family. And of course now that Gosta is free to work from wherever he wants, we don’t have to stay in Sweden….the world is our oyster.

So there you have it. Dreams can become reality BUT you have to plan it and then take action and follow it through. In the next section we show you, step by step how to plan your future: Why Goals Are Vital To Your Success

Living The Dream

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